Michael Novick on 4 Jan 2001 22:06:13 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] PART's Perspective: Abolish the Imperial Presidency

George the Second, President-Select, takes office as the first U.S. 
president of the Twenty-first Century under an unprecedented cloud. Despite 
his media-maintained mantle of ‘inevitability,’ “Dubya” came in second to 
Al Gore in the balloting across the country, and even in the actual vote in 
the pivotal state of Florida.

Bush’s coup clings to a fig leaf of legality by virtue of the approval of 
five Justices of the US Supreme Court, all appointed or elevated by 
Reagan-Bush or Bush-Quayle. In Chile or the Philippines, such a coup would 
require bloody repression to enforce and martial law to maintain. Even in 
imperial metropoles like France or Germany, it would be greeted by massive 
street protests and civil strife. Yet in the U.S., the predominant response 
has been ‘relief’ that the electoral uncertainty is over.

Bush’s mass base is in the old Confederacy, and he won through large-scale 
disenfranchisement of Black voters. Fittingly, he serves due to the 
Electoral College mechanism designed to placate the slave owning states, 
and by the anointment of 5 reactionaries and racists on the US Supreme 
Court. But  he also ‘won’ because in the campaign and in the post-electoral 
contest, Gore and the Democrats were more afraid of waking up the voters or 
rocking the boat, than they were of allowing Bush and the GOP to take 
power. Bush relies on the complacency of even most Democratic voters, and 
the still larger body of people who don’t bother to vote. His reign, like 
those of supposedly more ‘legitimate’ presidents, ultimately rests on the 
fact that masses of people in this country continue to “buy in” to our own 

What has this “civics lesson from hell” taught us about the true nature of 
the government and society of the United States? Americans have learned 
that our votes don’t count, may not be counted, and that in fact, under the 
Constitution, there is no “right to vote.”

Not only this time, but every time, the campaign and election are a 
necessary spectacle, a grand farce, a ceremonial exercise whose winner is 
pre-ordained, a contest with carefully circumscribed parameters so that, 
whoever wins, the rulers win.

Well, the sausage-maker who has seen what goes into the casing would never 
eat a link. Hopefully, this exposure of the everyday criminality and 
subterfuge that passes for democracy will deepen our distaste to the point 
that the legitimacy of the entire state apparatus, not just the head of 
state, is called into question. We must begin to withdraw our consent to be 
governed in this way.

It’s a measure of the system’s intolerance for even the narrowest dissent 
from the economic and political program demanded by the corporate elite, 
that they were forced to resort to this level of naked coup to install Bush 
in power. Gore and Bush differ only marginally on the best way to maintain 
and extend the U.S. empire and corporate economic interests. Even so, the 
more naked white supremacist and Christian right Bush camp could not 
countenance a Gore victory. They resent any concessions to the people of 
color, organized labor, bourgeois feminists and environmentalists in the 
Democratic Party’s mass base.

Opponents of Bush and defenders of democracy must recognize not only that 
Bush won the dollar election of corporate contributions, but also that an 
overwhelming majority of white male voters, and even a bare majority of 
white women voters, went for Bush, an ill-prepared and dim-witted liar 
whose main claim to the office, apart from inheritance, was his alleged 
“affability.” This is a measure of the continuing grip of white supremacy 
and allegiance to empire on masses of Euro-Americans. It is this racist 
racial solidarity which must be broken with and challenged directly. More 
so than guns or the media monopoly, it is the main strength and resource of 
the system of exploitation and oppression.

The problem is not just the illegitimacy of the gangster scion of a 
gangster family -­- the Kennebunkport Corleones or Texas Prizzis, as the 
Bushes have been called ­-- though their multi-generational involvement in 
the secret government that links the intelligence agencies, organized 
crime, the fascists and the corporate elite is well documented. The problem 
is the illegitimacy of a gangster system that most people in the U.S. still 
revere and accept. The undemocratic election of 2000 is the result not only 
of the hollowing-out of democracy that has been carried out during the 
recent period of corporate globalization and direct corporate rule through 
NAFTA and the WTO. It is the consequence of the essentially undemocratic 
nature of the U.S. state and society.

We need to look back farther than the last 40 days since Election Day, or 
the last 40 weeks since the campaigns began. We need to rethink the past 
240 years of U.S. history. First of all, we must recognize that the U.S. is 
neither a democracy nor a republic, but an empire. The people who run it 
understand this quite clearly. Their tactics and strategies flow naturally 
from this understanding. In an empire there are no citizens, first or 
second class ­ there are only subjects. But until we understand our true 
colonial condition and situation, we will be incapable of struggling 
effectively for our rights.

The Electoral College isn’t an anachronistic throwback to an earlier, less 
democratic period of US history. The Electoral College is an accurate 
manifestation of the imperial nature of our state and society. It only one 
reflection of the fact that the U.S. "Revolutionary" War simply replaced 
British colonialism with settler colonialism. The Electoral College is 
hardly less democratic than the winner-take-all presidency itself, the 
Supreme Court, or the US Senate, where each state has two powerful Senators 
regardless of population.

Bush’s selection gives the lie to the US claim to be a government “of laws, 
not men.” But beyond the man, the law itself is the heart of the problem. 
What is the Constitution, the vaunted Supreme Law of the land that the 
Supreme Court claims to uphold and the President swears to defend? The 
slave-holding and mercantile ruling elite of the late 1700's chafed at the 
limited powers of the government of the United States under the Articles of 
Confederation. They adopted the Constitution to create a powerful executive 
­  George Washington, the original imperial president ­  and a legislature 
with the power to control commerce and coin a common currency. But to win 
approval, they had to guarantee the inviolable power of the slave-owners.

They did this with the Electoral College, with the bicameral legislature, 
with the apportionment of Congressional representatives based on 3/5 of the 
non-citizen African slave population, and with a ban on Congressional 
action against slavery or the slave trade. They feared Indian resistance, 
African insurgency, and the possibility that poor whites might make common 
cause with indigenous people and slaves against them. They designed a 
system to guarantee stability and prevent further revolutionary upheaval 
through a seductive ability for whites to participate in the loot of empire 
and a deceptive distribution of power in branches and levels of the system. 
Thereby they assured themselves a steady supply of lieutenants and a 
difficult target for opponents.

This rotten deal cemented the ability of the newly formed state to protect, 
defend and extend the colonists’ empire in America. The compact was 
strengthened by the Jeffersonian recoil against the truly democratic 
slave-led Haitian revolution. Federalism is a blueprint for further 
expansion. The purchase of Louisiana territory, the conquest of Florida, 
the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Nation and other indigenous 
people of the east coast, were all accomplished by "Democrats." They acted 
in the spirit of the Constitution, although often contrary to the letter of 
its law.

The US flag, with its 13 stripes for its original settler colonies and 50 
stars for the added conquered territories, is the visual depiction and 
symbol of this imperial expansion, carried out under the racist doctrine of 
“Manifest Destiny,” the “god-given right” of Europeans to conquer the 
continent. “Democratic” reformers like Andrew Jackson ­-- a militarist, 
Indian killer and slave owner ­-- extended the franchise to more white men 
as a tactic to strengthen white supremacy and empire.

This sorry record continued with the annexation of Texas and the conquest 
of the remainder of northern Mexico; the Civil War itself was necessitated 
from the rulers’ point of view by a struggle over whether slavery would be 
extended into the territories stolen from Mexico. Consolidating the power 
of the national government over the states of the empire allowed the 
purchase of Alaska from the Czarist Russian empire; and subsequent to the 
Civil War, the violation of the sovereign Indian Nations in the Plains and 
the northwest. At the dawn of the century that just closed, the U.S. empire 
went global, with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the illegal 
annexation of Hawaii, despite the defeat in the Senate of the treaty of 
annexation. In a war with Spain, the U.S. seized the Philippines, Cuba and 
Puerto Rico, the last of which is still a direct colonial possession.

It is no accident that the two states where the Bush boys are governors, 
and from which they launched their takeover of the White House, are the two 
former Confederate States that had been added to the U.S. by military 
conquest. This conquest, slavery and the white supremacist consolidation of 
settlers loyal to the empire, form the key strongholds of racism and 
reaction not only in the U.S. but globally.

So when we talk about defending democracy in the U.S.,  it must go far 
beyond abolition of the Electoral College, campaign finance reform, 
updating antiquated ballot machinery in poor areas, or even protecting the 
voting rights of people of color.

Direct democracy can only begin with de-colonization. Economic democracy 
cannot be based on a “fairer” distribution of the spoils of empire. What we 
must do is  dismantle the empire and replace it with a system of economic 
self-management and political self-determination.

This editorial, under the title: PART's Perspective: Abolish the  Imperial 
Presidency appears in the new issue of "Turning the Tide:
Journal of Anti-Racist Action, Research & Education," Volume 13 number 4, 
Winter 2000-2001, available from PART (People Against Racist Terror), PO 
Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232. Samples are free; a four-issue subscription 
is $15 payable to Michael Novick, editor/publisher.
     In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material 
is  distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a 
prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit 
research and 				  educational purposes only.

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